Is Miami Heat Amnesty of Mike Miller the Final Step Toward Signing Greg Oden?

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Is Miami Heat Amnesty of Mike Miller the Final Step Toward Signing Greg Oden?
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Mike Miller's dismissal from the Miami Heat may be part of a bigger plan—a 7-foot, 270-pound idea.

Amnestying the 33-year-old sharpshooter had plenty to do with money. South Beach stood to save somewhere in the ballpark of $40 million over the next two seasons by parting ways with Miller.

This side of the CBA, $40 million is a lotmore than 68 percent of the NBA's current salary cap in fact.

Even so, this wasn't all about money. Rather, it wasn't about straight-up savings. Miami still has to pay Miller the $12.8 million he was owed, after all.

It wasn't strictly about the summer of 2014 either. Lightening the financial load for owner Micky Arison now may leave him more inclined to spend, spend, spend next summer, when LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade are all eligible to become free agents.

At that time, the Heat could be staring at a roster that will cost them $140 million or more when everything is said, done and paid for. Padding Arison's wallet now could be a way of bracing it for the hit it will take later.

Or the amnestying of Miller could be about Greg Oden.

ESPN's Marc Stein previously reported that the Heat and San Antonio Spurs are at the "forefront" of the race to facilitate Oden's return to the NBA. The New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings and Dallas Mavericks were also all said to be interested.

Problem is, being at the front of the race only means so much when you have competition with the ability to spend more than you do.

More recently, Chris Tomasson of Fox Sports reported that Oden's agent, Mike Conley Sr., stopped short of calling the Heat the favorite to land the tower, further complicating matters.

Oden isn't some veteran (though he should be) looking to take a pay cut to join a contender. He's seeking to salvage what may be left of his career and maximize his earning potential while doing it.

Signing him is going to cost the Heat likely most or all of their taxpayer midlevel exemption (roughly $3.2 million).

By lessening the punitive luxury tax bill they'll be forced to pay, the Heat may have increased their spending power now. Already facing a mounting tax score, holstering that $3.2 million could have been their prerogative. With Miller gone, they may be more apt to use it now on Oden.

Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images
"I would think that from their end, it helps," Conley Sr. told Tomasson about the chances of the Heat landing Oden after they saved money by severing ties with Miller.

Conley went on to say that he has been in contact with Pat Riley and Andy Elisburg, Miami's resident salary-cap expert, too.

Read into him not referring to the Heat as favorites as deep as you like, but it sure seems like they are.

Neither Oden nor his agent can be professing his infatuation with Miami too openly. Were they to declare the Heat his team of choice, they would be isolating any other interested suitors while also damaging his market value.

Having not appeared in a game in nearly four years since December 2009, Oden isn't in a position of power—not to the point where he can throw caution to the wind.

Verbally committing to Miami before a deal is officially ironed out would give the Heat all the leverage. They could offer him what they please, knowing they're the only ones he wants to sign with.

Worse still, the Heat could have a change of heart, even after amnestying Miller. Again, $40 million is a ton of cash. Arison could see that and ultimately decide the Heat don't need a big man (they do). They have Chris Andersen, and he and everyone else could see that as a enough insurance (it's not).

If that were to happen, Oden would be left dealing with teams like the Spurs, Pelicans, Kings and Mavs. Those clubs would be well aware they weren't his first choice and could then be prepared to lowball him the way the Heat could if he were to name them as the favorite.

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Oden can't name the Heat as favorites.
Were Oden five years into his career and a perennial All-Star like he was supposed to be, he could be a bit more cavalier about this situation. But he's not, so he can't.

A salary of $2 million a year may not seem like much, but for a player like Oden, who doesn't know what the future holds or if basketball is a part of it, the money matters.

It bears mentioning that compromising any leverage he has could also cost him additional years on his contract, amounting to an even bigger financial loss. Few teams may be prepared to give him a second guaranteed year, but what if they are? Or what if they're willing to include a player option? Or even team option?

Jeopardizing the chance to prolong his career isn't good business, and proverbially hugging the Heat before putting pen to paper does just that, ergo the restraint on Oden and Conley's part.

Just because Oden and the Heat aren't divulging their attraction for one another, though, doesn't mean we can't see it.

The Heat wouldn't say goodbye to the player who did this because he costs a bit extra. Not now.
We've looked at the Heat through Oden's eyes before. The allure of playing for a title in a relatively pressure-free environment may be too good to pass up.

And we know how much the Heat have to covet a behemoth like Oden. Miami finished dead last in rebounds per game last season (38.6), and a lack of size, even with "Birdman," aided in their near demise against the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals.

What we had yet to see was how far the Heat were willing to go to land Oden.

Now we know.

Bidding farewell to Miller wasn't an easy emotional decision. Game 5 of the 2012 finals is still fresh in minds, and let's face it: There is no championship this season without Miller's postseason shooting (44.4 percent from deep) and his surprising defensive displays.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Bidding ado to Miller isn't something LeBron is bound to be thrilled about.
Beyond that, LeBron helped orchestrate Miller's arrival after he signed in Miami. Seeing the Heat send a friend of his packing, after three finals appearances and two straight championships, isn't likely to sit well with The Chosen One.

Tomasson says that Riley obviously didn't think Miller's departure would impact LeBron's decision next summer, and he may be right. And even if it did, a third straight championship could act as a cure-all.

Put yourself in the Heat's situation, though. You wouldn't want to give LeBron any reason to doubt your commitment to winning. He'll likely become an unrestricted free agent again next year, and you don't want him to have anything to look at and doubt.

Securing LeBron at all costs has to be the Heat's goal, even three years later. No substitutions. If keeping Miller would only maintain the status quo, then that should be enough.

Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Miller's departure had to be more than just about money.
Rocking the boat in any way this close to 2014 can have serious repercussions outside of monetary gain. Unless, of course, it's part of a bigger plan, the same scheme we alluded to earlier.

LeBron knows the Heat need size, and if Miller's exit provides Miami with the means, and a more fervid motive, to sign Oden, it's easy to sell him on it. 

All of which is purely conjecture. LeBron could care less about the Heat amnestying Miller. Riley, Arison and the rest of the front office could be all about the financial implications here. Miami may be so sure LeBron will re-sign in 2014, that it manages the roster as it sees fit, without giving him a second thought.

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We know better than that. 

More than the almighty dollar, the Heat are concerned about LeBron and winning. Titles will keep him in South Beach. An active commitment to assembling the best possible roster, no matter the cost, will keep him in Miami.

Miller's exodus goes against that "whatever it takes" mantra the Heat have spouted thus far and need to continue embracing for the foreseeable future. Waiving goodbye to him becomes an extension of that adage if the end goal, and ultimate result, is the acquisition of Oden.

When looking at the Heat, always bet on them actually doing whatever it takes for the sake of winning, which is basically for the sake of LeBron.

Bet on them signing Oden.

 

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